Saturday, February 18, 2012
(May 1944, U.S.)
George Cukor's GASLIGHT is a mystery/thriller that I like to affectionately refer to as the "ultimate mind fuck" film. Confused? Then think about this...imagine a married couple in a London house that was once the scene of a brutal murder where the husband is systematically trying to get his wife to believe she's losing her mind. It's probably not that difficult to do, when you think about it. Take a woman who's already of a fragile mind and deceive her into thinking that she's forgetting things, losing things and frequently stealing things from you and you're bound to succeed in getting what you want. Imagine the husband Gregory is French with a frequent fierce temper (played by Charles Boyer) and the wife is tender and afraid Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman) who's easily susceptible to believing she IS going mad.
(By the way, am I starting to sound like a used car salesman with this??)
Okay, so without getting into too much more detail, I think you get the basic premise of GASLIGHT. Bear in mind, though, Gregory isn't doing all of this just for kicks. The motive of lost and valuable jewels in key here and they're hidden somewhere in the mysterious attic that looms over Paula's head in her bedroom. Every night she hears the footsteps, watches the gaslight dim in her room and truly believes she's losing her mind. She's convincing because as the viewer you're almost tempted to believe it's true, even though we know better as we watch her husband (a truly vicious prick, by the way!) slowly drag her down into the hole of her own madness. As cliche would have it, though, where there's a bad guy, there's also a good guy who wants to help the lady (played by Joseph Cotten) in distress and convince that she's not only sane, but that her husband is the one doing all this to her and is also responsible for the murder that took place in this house so long ago...all in the name of precious jewels. It's intruiging to watch the frail mannerism of gently Ingrid Bergman transform itself into something a lot more brutal and vengeful when she finally realizes that her mind and her soul have been fucked with by the man she's married to. Love sure sucks sometimes!
By the way, from the film's title, "gaslighting" has come to describe a pattern of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own reality. This can involve physical tactics (such as moving or hiding objects) or emotional ones (such as denying one's own abusive behavior to a victim). The effect is to maintain the abuser's self-image as a sympathetic person, while simultaneously priming the disoriented victim to believe that he or she is to blame for (potentially escalating) mistreatment. You see how culturally significant film can be to our social culture? Well, it USED to be, anyway.
It's important to note that this (second) version of GASLIGHT (based on an original) play was released in 1944. I point this out because if you watch it today, you'd swear it closely resembled just about every television mystery film they've ever shown on the Lifetime network. After watching GASLIGHT again for this blog, I pointed this Lifetime fact out to my wife, to which she replied, "That's why I love that movie!" Yes, she loves Lifetime (nobody's perfect).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Paula Anton: "If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you! Because I am mad, I have betrayed you! And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!"